By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Less than 24 hours after an 11-hour-hour hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, which ended with an armed gunman dead and hostages escaping, British police took two individuals into custody for questioning over their potential connection to the incident.
The Greater Manchester Police Department announced that its Counter Terrorism Policing North West group had detained two teenagers possibly connected to the incident. They were in custody and being questioned. Any additional information about them and their potential connection hasn’t yet been released.
The hostage taker, the FBI confirmed, was 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, a Muslim British citizen.
The FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force is continuing to investigate the incident, saying it “will continue to follow investigative leads.”
On Saturday, SWAT officers with the Colleyville Police Department, as well as officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI, initially responded at 10:40 a.m. to a call for service at the synagogue. When police arrived, they observed an emergency situation and began evacuating the area.
Mr. Akram had reportedly entered the sanctuary while the service was being live-streamed on Facebook. On the recording, he can be heard speaking to police in broken English, using profanities and mentioning Islam. The live broadcast was taken down shortly before 2 p.m. CST.
By around 5 pm, one male hostage had been released, unharmed. However, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and two other hostages were still inside.
While communication continued between the FBI and Mr. Akram, Rabbi Cytron-Walker later told CBS Morning News that at the time, it appeared that Mr. Akram “wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good.”
When Mr. Akram “wasn’t in a good position,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said he’d prepared his congregants to run on his signal. When that time came, he threw a chair at Mr. Akram and the men ran out a door and escaped, he said.
Mr. Akram next stepped outside the door, reportedly holding a gun in his hand, and was shot dead by law enforcement. The ending to the dramatic standoff was captured on video by WFAA News.
The Blackburn Muslim Community in Britain “confirmed that Faisal Akram, a member of the community, was the gunman who took hostages,” The Times of Israel reported, which also published screen shots of the group’s Facebook posts.
In one now deleted Facebook post, the group reportedly wrote, “Faisal Akram has sadly departed from this temporary world and returned to his Creator… May the Almighty forgive all his sins and bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise. May Allah give strength and patience to his loved ones in dealing with their loss.”
A man who identified himself as Mr. Akram’s brother, Gulbar Akram, reportedly commented on the post, according to the Times. “We as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologize wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident,” he reportedly wrote, adding that his brother “was suffering from mental health issues.”
Gulbar Akram also reportedly wrote that the hostages weren’t rescued, but freed by his brother, stating: “Don’t believe the bull#### in the media, they were released from the fire exit and not rescued. A few minutes later a firefight has taken place and he was shot and killed.”
The region’s largest Islamic group, the Islamic Association of North Texas, condemned the hostage situation. It condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the horrendous criminal act at the Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas,” it said. “We unequivocally denounce the hostage-taking in a holy place of worship as criminal, inhumane, and unislamic. We pray for the safety of all the hostages and hope for their safe release. We also applaud the heroic actions of law enforcement and stand with the congregation, the synagogue leadership, and law enforcement.
“The Islamic Association of North Texas cherishes our interfaith relationship with our Jewish and Christian partners, and we will continue to work to build bridges of understanding, compassion, and love,” it added.
KHOU-11 News reported that multiple sources said Mr. Akram was demanding to speak to Aafia Siddiqui, the first female terrorism defendant arrested after 9/11. She was later convicted on charges related to attempted murder and assault of U.S. officers and employees in Afghanistan in 2008.
Law enforcement hasn’t yet confirmed Mr. Akram’s motive, or explained why he was in the U.S. or for how long. They also haven’t yet confirmed or denied any possible connection between Mr. Akram and Ms. Siddiqui.
The FBI reported that Mr. Akram’s actions didn’t appear to be targeted toward the Jewish community even though they occurred at a synagogue and Jews were held hostage.
The FBI’s asking anyone with information about the incident to submit tips online or by calling its tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.